Rehabilitation Referral for Patients With Irreversible Vision Impairment Seen in a Public Safety-Net Eye Clinic

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Abstract

Importance

The prevalence of irreversible vision impairment in the United States is expected to increase by 2050. Vision rehabilitation is the primary treatment option. Clinical trials have established its efficacy in improving quality of life. Yet studies indicate that patients experience many barriers to accessing low-vision care.

Objectives

To examine the rate of referral for low-vision rehabilitation services by resident and attending ophthalmologists for adults with irreversible vision impairment and to assess the knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs of patients about vision rehabilitation.

Design, Setting, and Participants

Cross-sectional study with enrollment from June 20, 2016, to January 31, 2017, of 143 adults 18 years or older seen in a publicly funded, comprehensive eye clinic in Jefferson County, Alabama, and having 1 or both eyes with irreversible vision impairment (visual acuity was defined as 20/60 or worse) per the electronic health record.

Exposures

Demographic characteristics; patient questionnaire on knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs about vision rehabilitation; general cognitive status (Short Orientation-Memory-Concentration test); depressive symptoms (Patient Health Questionnaire-9); health literacy (Rapid Estimate of Adult Literacy in Medicine, Revised [REALM-R]); and self-reported difficulty in everyday activities.

Main Outcomes and Measures

Proportion of patients with irreversible vision impairment who were referred by ophthalmologists to low-vision rehabilitation services per the electronic health record.

Results

Of 143 patients enrolled with irreversible vision impairment in 1 or both eyes, the mean (SD) age was 55.4 (11.1) years and 68 (47.6%) were women. Most patients were African American (123 [86.0%]), uninsured (88 [61.5%]), and unemployed (92 [64.3%]); on average, they had normal cognitive status, minor depressive symptoms, and limited health literacy. As noted in the electronic health record, the rate of referral for low-vision rehabilitation services was 11.4% for patients with irreversible bilateral vision impairment (4 of 35 patients) and 1.9% for those with unilateral impairment (2 of 108). Most patients with bilateral (31 of 34 [91.2%]) and unilateral (90 of 97 [92.8%]) impairment indicated that they were bothered by their vision impairment, and most reported difficulty with reading (33 of 34 patients [97.1%] who were bilaterally impaired vs 85 of 104 [81.7%] who were unilaterally impaired).

Conclusions and Relevance

Results of this study suggest a need to better educate ophthalmologists and residents in ophthalmology about referrals to low-vision rehabilitation services for patients with irreversible vision impairment.

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